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11:21 AM on 03.22.2011

Too Young to Appreciate Final Fantasy?

Out of the twenty-six years I've been on this planet, I have been gaming for about twenty-two of them, and I still cannot stomach an entire playthrough of the first Final Fantasy game. I know, I know! No one's more disappointed about that fact than myself, but it's a truth I just can't avoid.

At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. Certainly I must not have been the huge FF fan I thought I was if I couldn't sit through the game that freakin' started it all for more than a few hours. Was it the graphics? Nah. I'm a retro gamer, after all. Was it the gameplay? Nope. The system is solid. In fact, the system is something I cream over as a retro gamer.

Then it hit me: it was the story. It's so...bland. By no fault of its own, of course.

See, back in the '80s a game that actually featured storytelling was, for the most part, uncommon. One of the reasons for this was the technology developers had at their disposal at the time. So when it came to developing a game like, say, Final Fantasy, the developers had to decide how much "power" was going toward telling the story, and how much of it was going toward actual gameplay.

Well, firstly, these were video games, so gameplay obviously took precedence—which is great.

However, I grew up in a time (hooray '90s!) when storytelling in RPGs was a bit more complex. Plots put on more weight, and characters were actually given personalities, and, sometimes—*GASP!*—talked. Sure, developers were working with much better equipment around this time, but the fact remains: RPGs had gotten better. Much better.

What frustrates me most about FF1 is that it's been remade about 3 million times, and every single one maintains the original's bland, 4th grader level storytelling. None of them hold up! Sure, the ports have fleshed out the dialog a tad, and added these great looking FMVs, but it's still the same old game. You'd think since Square is so quick to pour money into these remakes and compilations or whatever, they would retell the story that got 'em started[*] in richer detail.

Perhaps if I had gotten my hands on the game way back in 1990 I would be singing a different tune. Or perhaps my six-year-old self, who was more interested in platformers than anything else, simply wouldn't give a shit and continue playing Mario 3.

I think I am old enough to understand how technically important Final Fantasy was in practically setting the standard for how most RPGs are made today; however, I think I'm too young to appreciate the actual game itself.

A question for my fellow retro gamers: are there games out there that are "too old" for you to get into?

[*] I am well aware that Square Co. was around before the FF franchise.   read

8:54 PM on 07.31.2009

Who saw Jaffe's response coming a mile away? I did!

I had no idea that it would be Dave Jaffe, but I knew about thirty seconds into Burch's latest Rev Rant that someone from the industry was going to respond, and that the response wasn't going to be particularly pleasant, either. And let me tell you, it was hilarious.

Not because he was going after Burch, mind you. I agree with most of what Anthony Burch said in his latest video despite my stance on the "Games Are Art" debate. I thought it was hilarious because I don't think Jaffe watched the entire video. To me, it seemed like he might have watched the first thirty seconds of it, paused it, and said "One of these guys again, huh?"

And if he did watch the entire Rev Rant, I'm guessing that he kind of tuned it out and heard some of what Anthony said in spurts, bringing about some kind of misunderstanding. Because like Anthony said in his response, it looked like they were agreeing on everything, and disagreeing on everything not discussed in the Rant.

Also, I'm willing to bet that the majority of the people that disagree with the Rant are focusing on Anthony's use of the word "fun." I don't think Burch is suggesting that creating a game isn't fun, but rather a game that doesn't focus on a specific kind of fun. Because I'm sure Burch himself wouldn't fucking bother playing a game that he didn't find at least entertaining, which is the point of a game in the first place.

I think if Jaffe didn't shut his brain down thirty seconds into the video and listened to what Burch had to say, he wouldn't make comments like "simply a poser" on his Twitter.

And yes, I views on games being an artistic medium still stands. I still don't buy it, kind of. I'm still on the "self expression" definition of it all. But then, people's interpretation of art is different, and who am I to say what is art and what isn't, right? (RAMBLE ALERT).

Anyway. I'm siding with Anthony on this one.

Also, kudos to Anthony for not making his response an inflammatory one.



Sidenote: Since Jaffe keeps screaming "Show me! Show me!" on his Twitter, I urge developers to fucking show Jaffe. Present an idea to him that shows him that it's possible. Try it, I say! Or the terrorists win!   read

11:02 PM on 07.17.2009

Don't take us seriously. See if I care.

For as long as I can remember, I have read and heard gaming journalists and designers or what-have-you talk about how they strive to make it so the world takes the gaming community seriously. They want to let the world know that the world of games isn't just for nine-year-old little Timmy, but for people of all ages. They want to show that games can be considered works of art, and not just mindless, life-wasting entertainment.Well, you know what I say?

[Takes a manly swig of Barq's root beer.] Who fucking gives a shit?

Who gives a damn whether or not the rest of the world takes the culture seriously? I think the true question is: why should the rest of the world take us serious in the first place? I personally don't care if someone thinks me "immature" or "uneducated" for playing video games. That person is usually an uptight douchebag not worth associating with in the first place. Those assholes can kiss the fattest part of my ass.

I guess another question is: what do these "culture champions" want everyone to take seriously? Do they wish everyone to take games as serious works of art? Or do they want people to stop calling them losers for spending the better part of the day fragging newbs or leveling up their Blood Elf? Or both? I'm inclined to think that it's both, but my common sense tells me that it may be the former. Which... I can understand, I guess. But it's like Hideo Kojima said:

"The thing is, art is something that radiates the artist, the person who creates that piece of art. If one hundred people walk by and a single person is captivated by whatever that piece radiates, it's art. But videogames aren't trying to capture one person. A videogame should make sure that all one hundred people that play that game should enjoy the service provided by that videogame. It's something of a service. It's not art. But I guess the way of providing service with that videogame is an artistic style, a form of art."

Simple and plain. When was the last time you heard a developer say some shit like "Yeah, this game is my vision. I don't care if no one plays it. I essentially made it for myself." You could argue a few Indie developers possess that mentality, but I am willing to bet that any Indie developer you know, from Pixel to Johnathan Blow, creates their games with the intention of making it enjoyable for anyone that plays it, and that the only element of their game that will radiate their artistry is the visual. (I could go on about art being what you make it, but that's what this month's Monthly Musing is for).

And sure, great, unique art and thought provoking narrative is fine and dandy. I encourage it. But it comes secondary. If I'm not having fun playing the game, it's not worth sitting in my collection.

So, enough with all the "people need to take the culture seriously," and boasting about how much money the industry is making over others. None of that bullshit matters, and no one outside of developers and publishers and fanboys in search of validation cares about that bullshit. Sit down, pop in your game, have fun, and shut the hell up.

- Castle   read

2:42 PM on 07.16.2009

I, the Author: Albion's Dark Ruler

He killed my dog—Fenris, I named him. He killed Fenris. And I couldn't do a damn thing except watch him die, with wide, angry eyes. I kind of knew it was going to happen, to be honest. One way or another. A friendly and loyal canine companion? How could they not kill him, right? But my attachment to Fenris had let my guard down. So when I watched Fenris leap in front of Lucien's gun in an attempt to save his master, it kind of took me by surprise.

When it came time to throw down with Lucien for the first and final time, I had newfound purpose. I was no longer playing to simply beat the game and sit through a potentially underwhelming ending. I no longer played to avenge Sparrow's sibling that I barely knew and barely cared for. I played to make Lucien pay for killing my dog. Not Sparrow's dog. My dog. My love for Fenris went beyond his ability to sniff out treasure chests or bark to tell me when he'd found something of worth buried in the soil.

Fuck that. Fenris and I were a team. We were best friends. If he was scared, I cheered him up. When he found me treasure, I fed him a treat. When he mauled the hell out of a highwayman while I tended to a slew of other enemies, I told him what a good boy he was. Hell, we even entertained the people of Albion together with dancing and victory arm pumps and farting. Yes, god damn it. Farting.

And now he was dead? Lucien had to fucking pay.

Crossbow loaded and aimed for his chest, I pulled the trigger and let an arrow fly, lodging itself into Lucien's heart before he could monologue a single, meaningless word. And I watched him fall from the platform and into the abyss of The Spire with only slim satisfaction. Slim, because I didn't—couldn't end him in the fashion I truly desired. I wanted to destroy him. I wanted slice him, maim him, set him on fire. I wanted his pain to last more than the few moments he endured before his body reached the bottom of The Spire.

When Theresa presented me with a choice to ressurect those who died constructing the Spire, to ressurect my beloved Fenris, or to take vast riches as my reward, I did what any "truehero" would have done, and opted for the first choice. It was the hero thing to do... the 'right' thing to do.

When I reappeared in Oakfield, Fenris not by my side, I felt naked... incomplete... angry. I'd saved the world, ressurected millions and reunited them with their loved ones, and all I had to show for it was a "Thank You" letter. If there had been a way to trash that damned letter, I would have. My dog was dead. My best friend was dead. And since I felt robbed of my vengeance during my 'fight' with Lucien, Albion would receive punishment in his stead. Did I go around slaughtering innocent people all willy nilly? No... that would have been too easy. The people of Albion were to live under the dark, oppressive cloud that I was forced to live under since the death of my partner.

I took up a bartending job in Bloodstone. Did an excellent job. Got promoted four times, and made an exceptional amount of money. 300,000 gold pieces, in fact. I took that money, and bought every property in Bloodstone. But that wasn't enough. I didn't just want Bloodstone. I wanted Albion. I spent the next few days earning money and buying up businesses and housing, increasing rent by as much as 70%, and marking up stall merchandise as far up as 80%. And the people hated me for it, but could do a damn thing about it. If they had something negative to say, they were killed. I was their hero, God damn it. Soon to be their King. There was no way I was going to allow such ungratefulness. Especially in my face.

Before long, my actions... my corruption... it began shifting my appearance. Gradually, my stark, blue eyes began to take on a hellish, crimson glow, my skin faded into a sickening hue. I'd even begun forming horns. But I didn't care. I was acting like a monster, so it was only suitable that I looked like one, perhaps.

Soon enough, I had enough money to purchase the castle in which my sister and I had been murdered. Fairfax Castle. My new butler greeted me, amazingly unphased by my horrific appearance. I gave myself a tour of the place. Roamed the halls. Meandered in the room in which Lucien had thought he'd killed me. And finally, the throne room. I walked slowly, silently along the stretch of royal red carpet that led up to my throne, the new symbol of my iron clasp tyranny, and stopped half-way.

I had infinite wealth. Had killed countless. Was feared by all.

But Fenris was still dead.

And suddenly... it all meant nothing.

It's funny. Because when I first popped in Fable II, I expected it to suck like an eager collegiate whore. And to be frank, I really wasn't all that engaged with the game's story until my—Sparrow's dog was killed. In that moment, the game suddenly came to life. The world became tangible. The people I killed suddenly had feelings, memories. The hatred they showed me as I walked the streets felt real and offensive. Cliché, I know, but the game kind of made me feel like a kid again. I hadn't immersed myself like that within a game in a long, long time.

Games are pretty amazing, huh?   read

8:27 AM on 07.16.2009

Left 4 Racism

If you follow Left 4 Dead news like I do, you know about douchebag blogger Willie Jefferson, who apparently has nothing of real interest or merit write about in order to generate page views, and his recent douchebag article on racism in video games. In the article, he criticizes forthcoming Valve title Left 4 Dead 2 for its racism, due to having 'several black zombies'. Because, apparently, there are no black people in New Orleans. Go figure. Guess Hurricane Katrina wiped 'em all out, huh? But hey, enough digression.

While I believe that Left 4 Dead does contain racism, it is not for the same reasons Jefferson noted in his blog. The racism in the Left 4 Dead games lies not within its gameplay or story, but within some of its players. Its crackbrained, ignorant, insecure players. With headsets.

When it comes to L4D 2, I am one of the minority that got excited about it (I'm black, too, so that makes me a double minority... or Minority Prime). But I have to keep it 100 with you guys; discovering that the game would take place in New Orleans made me a little queasy. Why? Well, for one, black folks make up a large part of New Orleans' population, which leads me to my second point. The racism that I encounter in the current Left 4 Dead is already ridiculous (I have seen people kill Louis just so that there "wouldn't be a n***er on their team"), and I knew full well that giving these idiots the chance to kill a bunch of black folks was going to make it even worse on my ears. So you know I almost had an ulcer when I heard about two of the four playable characters being black. You should have heard some of the comments I've heard people say about it while playing a L4D campaign. "I wanna buy L4D 2, but it's full of n***ers." But hey, now that I think about it, it might keep those kinds of idiots offended by an abundance of dark skinned people at bay.

But even if it doesn't... should I get mad and never play again? No. I'm the kind of guy that believes that going up in arms over someone calling me something disrespectful means letting the terrorists win (take that Osama). That, and the fact that if Left 4 Dead, 1 or 2, had zero black folks in it, the racism would still be there. I'd still hear the N-word getting spammed every ten seconds by a fourteen year old sore loser. I'd still get kicked out of games due to the color of my avatar's skin—strange, I know. Especially in 2009. But it happens. As a black gamer—as a black MAN—I have come to grips with the fact that racism is just a part of certain people. And always will be. So, I either suck it up and perhaps do something about it, or whine every time I see a confederate flag or a couple of black people get killed in a video game.

Jefferson needs to be thankful for Left 4 Dead to be honest. Valve could have portrayed us as really bad stereotypes in their new playable characters, but they haven't from what I've seen. They could have had black zombies swaggering down the street with 40s in their hands instead of attacking the Survivors like everyone else. And what the hell is he doing playing Call of Juarez anyway? The game sucks.

Also, an interesting sidenote. When I first played L4D, one of the first things I said was: "Oh, so there ain't no black zombies in this city?"   read

5:40 PM on 06.01.2009

A New Effin' Metal Gear Solid Game?!

Didya miss me? Huh, bitch? Well, I missed you, too. Been a little busy with... life. But I am back, now. So you all can rejoice and revel in my awesomeness. Finished? Okay, let's get on with it. The topic at hand? The new Metal Gear Solid game revealed just recently at E3, Metal Gear Solid: Rising.

I am a huge Hideo Kojima fan. I love that guy. I love his games. I believe he's a genius as far as game designing goes, and that no one else in the world trumps him in that field.* I've never been disappointed in his work. From Snatcher to Zone of the Enders to Metal Gear. I think his games are just that awesome. So naturally I became giddy as a school girl once I saw countdown on the Konami website for a mysterious game that was to be revealed at E3. And then the giddiness game to a halt once I saw Big Boss' stern visage appear on the screen...

"Great," I thought, "another Metal Gear game." I consider myself to be a massive Metal Gear fanboy, but... I was under the impression that Metal Gear Solid 4 would be the last Metal Gear game (produced by him, anyway), and so that countdown had me revved up for something else. Somthing other than Metal Gear. Maybe a new Zone of the Enders game. Or hell, a new game entirely. One of the things that attracted me to Kojima's games is his innovation and style. He had me at Metal Gear, but he stole my soul with Zone of the Enders. That game was fantastic. Short, but fantastic. And it made me wonder just what other kind of games Kojima could create if he were given the opportunity.

I'm still going to pick this game up, though. I mean, it's going to feature my second favorite character in the series, Raiden (that's right, I was a fuckin' Raiden fan before the cyborg bullshit. Hell, I haven't even played MGS4 yet). I know the game is going to be good. I know it's going to make my peepee harder than solving chinese trigonometry with an abacus. But I was hoping for something different. Something outside of what I was used to.

I'm sure a lot of Kojima fans (the fans that didn't send Kojima death threats that is) feel the same as I do. But hey... maybe something else is happening with the franchise. The new tagline for the game is "Lightning Bolt Action." Now, that means either they're yanking the game out of its stealth roots and taking an action/adventure approach (a la Devil May Cry or something of the like), or it's just a neat tagline for a new game. *Shrug* Who knows, right? We'll see when we actually get some more news on it.

* Note: this is just an opinion of mine. So please, don't bite my head off in the comments talking about how much of an asshole I am. This means you Miyamoto fanboys. Hope you've enjoyed reading. Peace.

- CASTLE   read

5:01 PM on 05.08.2009

We Love Villains

And it’s turned them into pansies.

A fact that didn’t really bother me until now: we do not hate villains. In fact, we love our villains. We are affectionate to their purposes, understanding of their evil deeds, and enamored by their persona and style. The protagonist has been supplanted by the antagonist as the champion of the games we play, the shows we watch, and the books we read. In other words, villains nowadays are certified pansies. Pantywaists. Pussies.

One of the main problems with villains nowadays is that the deeds of these villains just aren’t nefarious enough. I’ve noticed that some of the crimes that these so-called bad guys commit are simply forgettable, and sometimes even forgivable. It almost seems as though the most extreme a villain will go these days is murder. Which, don’t get me wrong, is very despicable indeed. But, as they say, there are worse fates than death. And to be perfectly honest, does anyone really care about the characters these villains are snuffing out?

Take Kefka for example. He’s considered one of gaming history’s greatest villains, and I personally cannot see it. Sure, he was a zany misanthropist, and he was bat-shit crazy, and he killed a few people. But he never affected me on a personal level. He never invoked any anger or hatred or motivation. Just sheer annoyance, mild disgust, and amusement. (Quite often I found myself going “Haha! I fuckin’ love this guy!”). <Spoiler>Even when I saw him kill General Leo, I didn’t really feel anything except indifference. For like most main antagonists, Kefka tended to kill relatively insignificant characters that you barely knew anything about.</Spoiler>

One may argue, though, that one of the reasons we love villains so much is that our heroes are so dislikable. And to that I say that the real problem lies within our perception of what we believe makes a good hero. We generally tend to frown upon characters that display emotions such as despair and hopelessness and angst in our video games, when the source of said emotions is usually the villain, the bad dude we all seem to adore so much. Cloud and Sephiroth. Raiden and The Patriots. Tidus and Syn. The list goes on and on. A sad truth, but... we gamers typically like our avatars to be all-powerful hardasses. Don’t believe me? I know a few people that absolutely HATED Raiden, but have since grown to love him since Metal Gear Solid 4’s release. They splooge at the mention of him, now.

It’s the job of the villain to make you hate them. They’re supposed to be that inspiration, alongside simply seeing the ending, to complete a game. They’re supposed to make you feel like you have zero chance of defeating them. They’re supposed to put you in impossible situations. They’re there to hurt you, provoke your ire, and provide hopelessness. Think back to when you seriously hated a villain in a game you were playing. Remember how engaging the story suddenly felt? Remember how exhilarating that final showdown was? Remember how relieved you were when you struck that final blow? That, my dear friends, is the result of good villainy (and good writing).

Who are some villains that you loved to hate? And why?   read

3:09 PM on 05.06.2009

Castle Plays the Classics: Lunar SSSC

Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete by Game Arts is one of those ‘essential RPGs’ that folks say every console RPG fan should play. A certified classic. Great plot, great characters, great gameplay—you know, the works. So naturally, as a huge fan of console RPGs, I thought it was high time that I finally got around to actually playing it. I’d slept on a classic for too long. So, I managed to get my hands on a 2-Disc edition of the game (it’s actually not difficult to find, and still very cheap), popped it in the PlayStation, and prepared myself for an epic and memorable adventure.

The story goes like this: a fifteen-year-old boy named Alex who dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol, the legendary Dragonmaster, Dyne. At the suggestion of his friend Ramus, they, along with his childhood friend Luna and a cat-bat-ferret-thing with wings named Nall, venture into Dragon’s Cave in search of a precious gem. Inside the cave they find the white dragon Quark, who informs Alex of his destiny to become the new Dragonmaster. He tells our hero to seek out his brothers—the Red, Blue, and Black dragons—pass their trials, and recieve their blessing. Leaving their home, the three get a bit more adventure than they bargained for, and little do they know, the ride is just about to get wilder.

Did that seem blurb-y enough? Without giving too much of the plot away, that’s pretty much it. Of course, the plot eventually gets more complex, but not too much more. The plot ain’t the freshest pair of drawers in the hamper. Pretty conventional by fantasy RPG standards. But it’s at least entertaining.

The voice acting is bad, though. It starts out decent enough, but gets worse as the game progresses. To me, there were far too many instances where the voice overs didn’t quite correspond with the characters’ emotions. I hear this is mainly due to the fact that the actors are rarely shown scenes they’re supposed to be acting out, and not entirely the voice actors’ fault, but it doesn’t change the fact that it sucked.

Even worse was the dialog. I read somewhere that they hired a novelist as the game’s scenario writer. I bet his books suck. Seriously. The dialog just got downright corny sometimes. You can tell that the writer(s) was trying to make it lighthearted and funny, but it was just corny. There were a few instances in the game where I had to laugh at some of the character exchanges. Like, “Who the hell talks like this?!” I got the biggest laugh out of one particular line spat by the game’s main villain: “ ‘coming out’ party can begin. Send in the clowns!” I’m dead serious, man. It didn’t help that he had kind of a lisp thing going on, too.

Gameplay wise, the game is pretty good. I thoroughly enjoyed the combat system. It was your standard turn-base kind of action, blended with a touch of strategy. Characters can move about the battlefield, putting them in or out of range of an enemy’s attack range. The combat system also gives players the option to set up Tactics (preset attack patterns) or allow the game’s “A.I.” to fight for them, which is a cool feature, but you’re not going to use it too much. The reason being: enemies don’t fuck around in Lunar. Blindly inputing ‘Attack’ commands will get you wiped out with the quickness. The combat does a good job of demanding your attention, giving it somewhat of a challenge. Think Shin Megami Tensei-lite.

Players enter battle by approaching enemies on screen. Or in Lunar’s case, players enter battle by getting hunted down by enemies on screen. I told you, the baddies in this game don’t fuck around. They move fast. Dawn of the Dead style. Which can get really annoying, especially when you’re trying to avoid conflicts. It’s a minor problem, though.

However, a bigger problem lies within the game’s interface. I absolutely hated the menu, man. Sometimes equipping new gear and using items just felt like a real chore. Equipping new armor meant going to the character’s personal inventory, unequipping the item, placing it in the main inventory (which cannot be accessed during battle, by the way), going back two steps to enter the main inventory, place the new armor into the character’s personal inven—oop, I forgot to take something out of the character’s ITEM inventory because it was full of recovery items. So I go back two steps, place one of the items in the main inventory so that the character can hold the new piece of gear. Go back to the main inventory, hand him the armor, go back to the character, equip the new armor, and then go and retrieve the item I had to give up to make space.

Why can’t I just press a button and equip/swap equipment? Blaaargh! Moving along.

Graphically, the game is dated, in a charming sort of way I guess. I mean, I’ve seen worse, but I’ve seen much better. But hey, this is a remake of a Sega CD RPG, after all. I guess I shouldn’t have expected something like *COUGH*Grandia*COUGH* or *COUGH*Alundra*COUGH, HACK.* Don’t get me wrong, though. I like the way the game looks. But then, I’m kind of a big retro gamer, so shit like that doesn’t really bother me too much. If you’re real big on aesthetics, though, you might get a little irritated.

Despite the game’s flaws... I enjoyed myself (I spent 30 hours of my life on this thing, I better have). Hell, a lot of my gripes with the game come from the fact that it didn’t live up to my astronomically high expectations after hearing people tell me how essential the game was to my collection, and how unbelievably great it was. I wouldn’t call it stellar, by any means. But I wouldn’t call it bad, either. It’s... it’s just good. It’s just a real good game.

- CASTLE   read

8:15 AM on 05.04.2009

Walkin' In Place: A Gamer's Lament

It’s sad, really. I mean... look at him. Walkin’ in place. Like a total asshole. It’s why we’re not cool anymore, to be perfectly honest. I mean, he never really took me seriously. In fact, he’s never taken anyone seriously. He’s a dick, is what he is. I asked him once if he walked in place because he was really into fitness, and then he was all “I was born this way.” Oh yeah? What condition is that? Douchebag disease?

But in all seriousness, can you imagine knowing someone who actually walked in place all day long? While just standing and talking, sleeping, eating... it’d be pretty fuckin’ annoying right? Right. Because it IS annoying. So why did some RPG developers make it so their characters did this? Did it have to do with some complex programming thing that I’ll never understand? Or did they think it’d be funny to make me want to rip my cartridge or disc from my console and toss it into my cat’s litter box? Whatever the case, it was annoying as shit, and I’m glad it hasn’t really been done in the past decade.

You may be thinking to yourself: “But why, Castle? So long as the game is fun and the story is good, it shouldn’t really matter!” Wrong. While I agree that visual aesthetics isn’t everything in a game, I’m also one to believe that it can break a game, too. Especially in RPGs. One of the main reasons you play an RPG is for the story, because let’s face it: combat can get a little repetitive at times, no matter how innovative a system is. The story is there to entertain us, to keep us interested, to motivate us to grind for 20 hours in the overmap’s wooded area so that we can beat Villain McNastypants. And that walking-in-place shit used to just ruin it for me.

A prime example is Lunar: Silver Star Story. Classic game, shitty dialog aside (”My coming out party can begin. Send in the clowns” Actual quote!). I’d be watching an in-game scene between Luna and Alex that’s supposed to be serious and heartfelt, but looks downright silly with the characters walking-in-place. I found myself unable to really care for the characters like I probably should have, which sucks. It made the scenes look more hilarious than anything else. It’s even sillier watching a screen with twenty NPCs on it walking in place, with that one NPC just standing there, stock still, minding its own business.

Who knows? Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe the developers had to do it for some unknown reason. Or maybe I am to caught up on aesthetics when it comes to my RPGs, which has caused me to pass up on a few classics. How do you feel?   read

11:10 AM on 05.01.2009

Castle Reviews "The Manipulator."

TITLE: The Manipulator
GENRE: Puzzle/Platform
DEVELOPERS: Virtanen Games

The Manipulator isn’t your typical puzzle/platformer game. It‘s dark. It’s creepy. It’s disturbing. It feels like playing a game based on a Trent Reznor nightmare. And on top of that, it’s free. A game can’t get anymore awesome than that. Thank God for indie developers. In this case, thank God for Virtanen Games, the two-man development team behind The Manipulator.

Players will assume the role of The Manipulator, a powerful psychic with the ability to control—or manipulate—the actions of others, who must infiltrate a weapon's facility for unknown reasons. Players will have to sneak past enemies by Manipulating them (God, that sounds all kinds of wrong), using their victims to do away with other enemies—by way of gun or tranq—and solve puzzles. They're also given the choice to kill them (by pressing and holding down on the directional keys until their victim explodes, or simply manipulate them to die in more humorous ways) or "end the Manipulation peacefully" (pressing and holding up on the directional keys). The Manipulator also has the ability to read minds, which will aid players in solving puzzles such as finding keys or learning passcodes.

The game is more puzzles than platforming, though there are a few instances when the player needs to execute a perfectly timed jump in order to avoid death. But those instances don't come along very often.

The game's design is dark (literally and figuratively) and surreal, yet simplistic. You're not going to be too amazed by the level design or animations, but the dreaminess of it all makes the game look pretty to look at and foreboding at the same time. And coupled with the game's ominous, distorted background music, it was almost difficult for me to play with the lights off. It was like listening to my parents watch The Hitchhiker intro all over again. Effin' creepy.

One of the things I really like about this game is the fact that it kind of messed around with my conscience. Quite often I found myself killing off people I didn't like based on their personality traits, while letting the rest go peacefully. Despite these guys trying to kill me, I actually started to feel bad that I was practically murdering these "innocent" people based on their thoughts or beliefs. It was weird (and if you want to know, I was killing off racists).

The puzzles in The Manipulator aren't all that difficult. The game often gives you hints for what you should do next, which takes away some of the challenge. It's not very long either. Players will probably breeze through the game's twenty levels in about fifteen or twenty minutes. Considering the game is free, though, that's actually not that bad. It's definitely worth the download.

4 out of 5   read

11:26 AM on 04.30.2009

Screw you, Sephiroth!

Sephiroth, right next to Kefka, is one of Final Fantasy’s iconic and most beloved villains. People love this guy. They love his look, his cool, yet maniacal character, and most of all, they love making slash fanfics about his sexual exploits with every male character in Final Fantasy—including Heidegger. But there are a few people out there that hate Sephiroth. Hate him with every fiber of their being. I am one of those people.

Sephiroth did something unforgivable. He did something so vile and revolting, so dastardly, that I can barely stand to look at his tree severing chin and hair. Am I talking about him slaughtering hundreds of innocent people so that he could summon a gigantic magic meteor to destroy even more innocent people for the sake of becoming a god? No. I’m talking about Sephiroth killing Aeris Gainsborough (fuck you, it’s Aeris, not Aerith). I didn’t care too much about her character or anything like that. No, I cared about something important. Much more important.

I am a powergamer/leveler. I’ve been one since I was unable to beat Lavos in Chrono Trigger my first time around due to my level being so damn low. So when I picked up Final Fantasy VII, I made sure that my characters were at fairly high levels as early as possible in the game. I made sure everyone had the latest equipment and the best materia. My party was effin’ perfect, which I believed to be a feat considering I was forced to use only three characters in this particular Final Fantasy instead of the usual four. Cloud was my powerhouse, Barret was my Status guy, and Aeris was my Healer. Why? Because those Limit Breaks of hers coupled with some Healing materia made my team unstoppable, that’s why. Unstoppable like explosive diahrrea.

And then... then this motherfucker Sephiroth comes along... and murders her. After all that time and money I spent into building her punk ass up?! Are you shitting me?! I mean, c’mon! I chose her over Tits Lockheart for crying outloud! And I LOVE tits! Does he know how much gil I invested in this bitch?! The bangles? The weapons? The accessories? This motherfucker got in the way of Castle’s pimpin’.

Sephiroth had to pay, baby.

When it came time to kick his ass at the end of the game, I did so with fervor. With passion. With gusto. And it didn’t take long, either. I owned that murdering son of a bitch, clipped that ugly ass wing of his, and stabbed him until the North Crater exploded (that’s... not what really happened in the game, but that’s how I imagined it). I had successfully avenged my life, for it had been wasted fruitlessly on a woman who was only to be killed by a douche bag in a trench coat.

My ire doesn’t stop there, though.

Years later, I pick up the game Kingdom Hearts. And whaddya know?! Aeris is there! Oh, so now you’re alive? So what was all that bullshit in ’97 then? Oh, you don’t remember? You set me up, didn’t you, bitch? You made me invest all that time and money into your ass, just so you can run off with some other—wait, SEPHIROTH is still alive? What the hell? You two were in this together?!

You know, on second thought. Fuck Aeris, too. Two-timing whore.

- CASTLE   read

1:57 PM on 04.29.2009

Castle Retrospects On "The Firemen"

Remember the first Die Hard movie? Remember your nipples getting hard at how deliciously badass it was? Remember getting fired from your office job because you were caught monologuing to yourself in a ventilation shaft, pretending you were John McClane? I sure do! Well, take the awesomeness of that movie, replace John McClane with a gutsy fire fighter, and the German terrorists with living flame, and you will get The Firemen, a 1994 SNES title by Human Entertainment.

The game centers on a moustached badass named Pete, and his five person fire fighting unit on a mission to save employees trapped inside of the Metrotech Chemical company building, all the while extinguishing wild, unpredictable flame. ON CHRISTMAS! Equipped with a fire extinguisher, Pete and his second in command Danny, bravely venture headlong into the heart of danger to risk their lives for the sake of others.

The story is fairly simple, but surprisingly good. A lot more than what you'd expect out of a fire fighting game. It's awesome in a cheesy action movie kind of way (which I think the developers were probably going for), and does a good job of not getting in the way of the gaming experience. The dialogue is surprisingly well-written, despite the characters being undeveloped. But like I said, this is a fire fighting game, not an RPG. You won't find a ridiculously convoluted tale here.

Stages are divided up into 'Floors', and it is your job to extinguish all the fires you can and save Metrotech employees under a set amount of time, which is usually about ten or so minutes (your life guage drains to nearly zero once you hit the 1 minute mark). In addition to having an extinguisher to put out fires, you also have Danny, who uses his axe to Lorena Bobbitt fires into oblivion while you hose 'em down. You're capable of moving Pete in full 360º motion, lock into a single direction, and strafe while using the fire extinguisher, which is extremely helpful when you're in a situation where you need to move while you spray. You even get these things called extinguisher bombs that are like water balloons, except badass, and are a great help when you're overwhelmed. Power ups, such as life replinishment and increased extinguisher power, come far and few inbetween. If you're running low on health, you'll have to save a Metrotech employee, which doesn't come as often as you'd like.

The Firemen is relatively easy. You certainly don't have to put out every fire in the game. You can just as easily just put out the flames in your path, save a few people, and head straight to the boss. If you want a good rank at the end of the game though, you'll have to put out every flame and save every employee in record time, which can be a bit challenging. So hardcore gamers may have a blast with that. :D Perhaps the only thing keeping this game from getting a perfect score is the lack of a co-op mode. Having a partner assume the role of Danny would have been awesome.

Overall, this game is fuckin' sweet. A definite must-have for retro gamers, or gamers period. Collectors interested in buying this game can find it for dirt cheap on Ebay, and the rest of you can probably just download the ROM or something. It's best played with a controller, though. Trust me. Unfortunately for US gamers, The Firemen was only released in Europe and Japan, which sucks hard for my childhood because I would have thoroughly enjoyed this game as a kid. Other than that, the game is just great.

A solid 4 out of 5.   read

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